The potential of partnerships for improving public transit

The potential of partnerships for improving public transit

Oakland, Calif. -- Against the backdrop of growing pains in the new gig economy's ridesharing sector, panelists at the Code for America Summit on Sept. 30 discussed the pros and cons of public-private transportation partnerships.

One of the big advantages that services like Uber, Lyft and Waze can offer cities, the experts said, is insight into their transportation networks based on data collected from ridesharing drivers and users. Cities can use such data to identify gaps and friction points in existing public transit systems, and -- in the longer term -- make smarter planning decisions by understanding how these services reduce the likelihood of individuals taking a trip in a car alone or buying a second car for a household.

“These new modes of transportation are going to be hugely influential in helping us grow our cities in a way that’s ecologically sustainable, in a way that actually doesn’t lead to endless congestion,” said Boston CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

Boston already uses Waze traffic data to help inform policy and manage roadways. The city is even piloting the use of Waze data to determine if the enforcement of double parking helps reduce traffic. It has an agreement with Uber, another popular private transportation service, to share its data to help the city alleviating traffic congestion.

“There’s an incredible opportunity around the things that are not directly related to transportation, but flow from that,” Franklin-Hodge said, referring to housing policy or parking requirements.

Gabe Klein, special venture partner with Fontinalis Partners, believes the integration of public- and private-sector transportation can even help to make services equitable and improve public transportation.

“We need the data and the information to make the right arguments and also to help [ridesharing] companies actually integrate in a better way with public transit,” Klein said at the summit.

But public transportation is a government service and can’t be run like a business, Franklin-Hodge said.

“There’s a fundamental difference between public transportation and companies that are doing this for a profit,” he said. “We have to make sure that we are looking across a full spectrum of everyone -- regardless of age, physical ability, technical ability, income.”

Part of that model is making sure a city can measure its transportation effectiveness, in order to hold itself accountable, through certain metrics and technologies that can integrate APIs from public software like mobile ticketing and fare payment applications.

Making it easy to share real-time transportation data can benefit both cities and ridesharing companies. It could transform the simple transit station to a mobility hub, incorporating bike share and pick-up and drop-off stations. Private transportation service providers could even monitor commuter trains to signal drivers to be in the area when a train is arriving, running late, or if there are unexpected service interruptions.

According to Franklin-Hodge, there are partnership opportunities within the “incredible work” of the private sector, but the partnership needs to deliver a pool of services that offer mobility to everyone in the community, not just everyone who would be economically profitable.

While Franklin-Hodge said cities can benefit from data sharing private transportation service providers, he stressed that governments must stay true to their fundamental responsibilities, such as access, equity, non-discrimination and safety.

Governments should be asking whether the new technologies deliver a more equitable service for all residents, Franklin-Hodge said. “Are they widening the gap or are they helping us to close it?”

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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